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British GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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In many of the team previews and media sessions this week, the drivers have been saying how wonderful the British fans are and how they make Silverstone such a great race.

Frankly, it is very true. Even on Thursday, the grandstands were packed, and Friday saw even more fill the seats to see the practice sessions and support races. After a cloudy start, things soon warmed up at Silverstone to produce a lovely English summer day. Romanticism aside, here’s the latest news and analysis from the F1 paddock.

SESSION REPORTS

  • Once again, the Mercedes drivers shared the practice sessions on Friday. First blood went to Nico Rosberg at Silverstone, although the session was disrupted by a number of incidents and red flags.
  • Hamilton bounced back in FP2 to finish first, but he suffered an engine failure that meant he lost some track time.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

  • Susie Wolff’s practice run-out ended after just four laps thanks to an engine problem.
  • She admitted that she was disappointed, but has now turned her attention to the German GP at Hockenheim.
  • Susie also made some very interesting comments about women in motorsport, saying that she does not feel she has been treated differently because she is a woman.
  • Monisha Kaltenborn said that the fight for the two seats at Sauber next season is wide open, with Sergey Sirotkin and Simona de Silvestro both in the running.
  • She also questioned the support for standing restarts despite Charlie Whiting saying that the teams were very enthusiastic.
  • Kimi Raikkonen revealed that he is likely to quit F1 upon the expiration of his Ferrari contract.
  • Will Buxton brings you the latest behind-the-scenes news from the British GP paddock in Paddock Pass.
  • Many of the drivers gave their views on standing restarts; some were happy, some felt that the sport should stay as it is.
  • Lewis Hamilton was upbeat despite his engine problem during FP2.
  • Pirelli will test an 18-inch tire at Silverstone next week to try and make the sport more road relevant.

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Great news for those of you not interested in the political side of the sport! This Friday, we didn’t have a team principal press conference, so no great fall-out or extended analysis of how the F1 Strategy Group works as per Austria.

That said, we did have a great chat with Monisha Kaltenborn this morning. She spoke about Sauber’s current position, its driver selection for 2015, and also about the introduction of the standing restarts for next season. The difference between her opinion and that of FIA race director Charlie Whiting is very interesting indeed. Once again, the Strategy Group is the driving force behind this idea.

Looking at the long-run pace, Mercedes is once again the dominant team, but that’s far from surprising. We look set for a great battle between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton this weekend at Silverstone, and in front of his home fans, Lewis will be keen to impress.

It also wasn’t a bad day for his compatriot, Jenson Button. The 2009 world champion has never finished any higher than fourth at Silverstone, and although he may not better that this weekend, he does look set for some points.

Ferrari and Red Bull should be the teams battling for the final podium position. Fernando Alonso finished third in both sessions, but Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel were never far behind. Kimi Raikkonen did well in FP1, but was less impressive in the second session.

The word at Williams heading into this weekend was “momentum”. After securing its best team result in nine years at the Austrian Grand Prix, many were expecting them to continue to impress. Said momentum lasted just 25 minutes as both Susie Wolff and Felipe Massa hit trouble during FP1. Wolff’s engine failure robbed her of a chance to show what she can really do behind the wheel of an F1 car, but she made history nevertheless. Massa, on the other hand, simply overcooked it and binned his car in a flurry of déjà vu from last year. The team managed to fix the car back up for FP2, though.

All in all, it was a pretty usual Friday – usual in the sense that Mercedes dominated proceedings. It will take something out of the ordinary to stop the Silver Arrows sweeping to a one-two tomorrow in qualifying.

You can watch qualifying for the British Grand Prix live on CNBC from 8am ET tomorrow morning.

Spectator dies after accident on opening stage of Monte Carlo rally

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Officials have confirmed that a spectator has died following an accident on the first stage of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday night, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon slid off the route towards the end of the 21.25 km stage between Entrevaux and Ubraye, with his car blocking the course.

Emergency services were quickly called when it emerged that a spectator had been hurt in the accident, with rally officials confirming later in the evening that the fan had died as a result of injuries sustained.

“The Automobile Club de Monaco regrets to advise further details following incident of the car #4 (Paddon/Kennard) in SS 1,” a statement from the rally organizers read.

“The spectator was transported by helicopter from the stage to hospital in Nice. Despite the best efforts of the medical staff, the spectator has sadly died.

“An investigation has commenced into the incident and all involved parties will provide assistance to the authorities.

“Everyone associated with the event extends their deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, friends and individuals affected.”

Hyundai issued its own statement soon after: “Hyundai Motorsport is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of a spectator during the opening stage of Rallye Monte-Carlo on Thursday evening.

“The incident occurred at the same time as the #4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard crashed into the mountainside, after the car hit a patch of black ice at the entry to a left-hand turn.

“The team and crew have pledged their full support to the event organisers and authorities to understand the full details.

“Hyundai Motorsport extends its condolences to the family, friends and individuals affected.”

The stage was cancelled following the incident, with the rally resuming on stage two later in the evening. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville currently leads by 7.8 seconds from defending world champion Sebastien Ogier.

Paddon’s car has been withdrawn from the remainder of the rally as a result of the incident on Friday.

Gateway secures deal with Bommarito Auto for IndyCar race sponsorship

MADISON, IL - AUGUST 9:  Bryan Herta drives his #27 Andretti Green Racing Honda Dallara during practice for the IRL (Indy Racing League) IndyCar Series Emerson 250 at the Gateway International Raceway on August 9, 2003 in Madison, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Gateway Motorsports Park’s return to the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule will feature a two-year title sponsorship from Bommarito Automotive Group, it was confirmed on Thursday. The St. Louis Business Journal was first to report the news.

The largest auto dealer in St. Louis will see its name on the race, now titled the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. Gateway’s return comes on August 26 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), for its first IndyCar race since 2003.

“We are pleased to announce that Bommarito Automotive Group will join Gateway Motorsports Park in the production of our inaugural INDYCAR event as the title sponsor,” Curtis Francois, Owner and CEO of Gateway Motorsports Park, said in a release.

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Photo courtesy Gateway Motorsports Park

“This is a tremendous event for the St. Louis region and no one knows our town better than the folks at Bommarito. They are a progressive group, known for a high standard of quality and excellence. It’s the same standard of on-track action and family-friendly experience that we look forward to delivering with our landmark event.”

“We are excited to partner with Gateway Motorsports Park and the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said John Bommarito, President of the Bommarito Automotive Group. “When approached by Gateway about the return of INDYCAR to St. Louis, we felt it was important to have a major St. Louis company step forward and support the return of open wheel racing to the region.  We are extremely proud to be the title sponsor of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.”

Gateway will be the sixth and last oval race of the season, following earlier races in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Pocono.

Rahal wants to turn 2016’s unrealized potential into reality in 2017

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Graham Rahal likes to say “2016 was a year of tremendous potential.”

But it also was a year that some potential was not realized.

After a career season in 2015, when he finished fourth in the Verizon IndyCar Series and earning two wins and six podium finishes, Rahal slipped back slightly in 2016, finishing fifth with just one win and only four podiums.

So what does 2017 hold in store? If things go well for the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, the tremendous potential of 2016 will morph into potential not only realized, but could result in the younger Rahal’s best year ever.

Rahal has the power, the car, the equipment and the personnel to make some major upward moves this year.

“We just have to find going forward a way to keep that performance level, enhance it a little bit,” Rahal said. “Obviously the cars aren’t really going to change at all (major changes are planned for 2018).

“I felt like speed-wise, our performance (in 2016) was actually better than 2015, pretty considerably. We just did our season reviews about a month and a half ago, and it’s pretty clear to see performance-wise, the team performed a lot better.

“However, we had a lot of things that just didn’t quite go our way, whereas in 2015 we had bounces that certainly did. 2016 the bounces didn’t happen. We had to fight a lot harder, still managed to get a top-five finish in the championship.

“I think that I probably drove better last year than 2015. But hopefully the best is yet to come. As a driver you always have to be critical of where can you improve, where were mistakes, what did you kind of let go, you know, and where did you lose points.”

The 28-year-old Rahal is particularly focused on potentially following in his father’s footsteps of winning the biggest race of all, the Indianapolis 500.

In nine starts in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, the younger Rahal has just two top-10 finishes: third in 2011 and fifth in 2015. At the opposite end of the spectrum Rahal has four finishes of 25th or worse, including two last-place showings (2008 and 2014).

“We really need to improve at Indy,” he said. “That’s our main focus of everything this off-season. And also get a little bit of those breaks. You know, that’s kind of the goal. That’s what we feel like we need.”

The younger Rahal will also reunite for at least the Indianapolis 500 and probably more races with Oriol Servia, which should help upgrade Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s testing, race preparation and data sharing.

“Oriol is a clear plug-in for us,” Rahal said. “First of all, he’s a great guy. Second of all, he will help us. He’s going to help our performance at Indy. I can tell you that right now. And third, he’s been there so many times with the organization, he’s been in and out of the team a handful of times. He knows everybody. He’s been part of the team before. So it’s a clear fit.

“We need just a very experienced guy who can help lead us down the right path, and Oriol is going to be that guy.”

Interestingly, RLL had the opportunity to bring in a full-time second driver, but chose to go with the 42-year-old Servia in a limited number of races for now.

“There were several drivers who came to the team that wanted to run full season, had budgets to do it and everything else, and they were all turned away,” Rahal said. “The team is focused on making sure if there is the addition of a second car full-time, it has to fit the right environment.

“… We really are proud of the environment that we have, and so Oriol is a guy that fits that just perfectly and won’t upset the apple cart, so to speak. … He’s a great guy, and I think he’ll do a heck of a job for us. We’re looking forward to it.”

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Kimi Raikkonen becomes ambassador for sport in Finland

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari walks in the Paddock before practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Ferrari Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen was named as an ambassador for sport in Finland at a ceremony in Helsinki on Wednesday night.

Raikkonen won the F1 world championship with Ferrari in 2007, becoming the third Finn to achieve the feat following Keke Rosberg in 1982 and Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999.

Raikkonen was honored by Finnish prime minister Juha Sipila at an award’s ceremony, with Ferrari reporting that his presence at the event was kept secret until the last moment.

“I’m not that used to making formal speeches,” Raikkonen said, referring to his reputation for his monosyllabic nature.

“But I would like to wish all the best to the winners in every category, as well as those who missed out on the prizes this year.

“I would stress how important it has been in my case to have the support of my family and help from trustworthy colleagues and the people within the Ferrari team, with whom I have worked for so many years now.”

Raikkonen will return for a 15th season in F1 in 2017 – his seventh with Ferrari – as he looks to build on his sixth-place finish in last year’s drivers’ championship.